How To Avoid Illegal Interview Questions

Job interviews, even those that go the smoothest, can be a bit stressful. No matter which side of the desk you are on, you want to be sure that the time is well spent and that all questions are properly addressed.

If you are hoping to secure a job, you need to present yourself in the best possible light while convincing the potential employer that you are the right choice. If you are the one doing the hiring, you want to get a clear picture of the candidate's strengths and weaknesses while remaining sensitive to their rights. The law provides clear guidelines for conducting job interviews. Here are a few tips to be sure that you avoid asking illegal interview questions:

  1. As an employer, you cannot discriminate on the basis of age, race, gender, disability, national origin, or religion. When approaching any of these subjects, you must be cautious in your choice of words. By pressing a potential employee for personal information in any of those categories, you may put your company in the awkward position of needing to defend it's hiring practices.
  2. If you are concerned that an applicant is not yet an adult, you may ask if they are over 18. You may not, however, ask for their date of birth.
  3. It is acceptable to ask a candidate if they have the authority to work in the U.S. It is not okay to inquire about a person's citizenship status or country of origin.
  4. If you have concerns that an applicant's family responsibilities would interfere with their ability to perform their job consistently and well, you can ask about their availability for things like overtime or travel, if these would be expected components of the job. You may not ask if an applicant has or is planning to have children.
  5. If the job requires certain physical capabilities, you may ask the candidate specific questions as to whether they are able to perform those tasks, such as standing for extended periods of time or the ability to lift a certain number of pounds. It is not acceptable, however, to inquire about a person's height, weight, medical history, or possible disabilities.
  6. Sometimes, people convicted of certain types of crimes would possibly put your company at risk. If you are in a line of business that requires its employees to have a clean criminal record (for example, banking careers often require that their employees have never been convicted of any money-related crimes), it is acceptable to ask only about these crime convictions. It is not permissible to inquire about an applicant's arrest record.
  7. Military service often provides job candidates with valuable skills that transfer well into the civilian job market. It is certainly alright to inquire about these skills, but you may not ask an applicant whether or not they were honorably discharged.

If you are the applicant, you need to be prepared for questions that the potential employer has no legal right to ask, but may ask, nonetheless. Although you certainly have no obligation to answer such questions, by refusing, you may dramatically decrease your chances of getting the job. Instead, it may be wise to try to see why the question was asked and attempt to address the interviewer's possible concerns.

For example: If an interviewer asks if you plan to have children, you may want to say something like, "Be assured that any plans I may have to start a family would not interfere with my ability and willingness to be a dedicated employee. I am aware that the position requires extensive travel, and am fully prepared to accommodate the company's needs."


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